Criminal justice system still failing on disability hate crime, says report


The criminal justice system has failed yet again to take the action needed to address its failings in dealing with disability hate crime, according to a new report.

Two years ago, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation concluded in a joint report that disability hate crime was “the hate crime that has been left behind”.

That report, Living in a Different World, called for attitudes to change, and said the criminal justice system had let down victims, pointing out how failings across the criminal justice system had helped lead to some of the most notorious disability hate crimes of recent years, including the deaths of Francecca and Fiona PilkingtonDavid Askew and Michael Gilbert.

Now, a follow-up report by the three inspectorates accuses the police, probation service and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of failing to implement their recommendations.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009, while the police, prosecutors and probation service – and other agencies, including the courts – have repeatedly been urged to improve in a series of reports.

In 2008, Disability Now magazine, Scope and the UK Disabled People’s Council published the ground-breaking report Getting Away with Murder.

It was followed in September 2011 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report, In Plain Sight, which concluded that hundreds of thousands of disabled people were being subjected to disability-related harassment every year, but that a “culture of disbelief” was preventing authorities from addressing the problem.

And two years later, in 2013, came Living in a Different World from the three inspectorates, which found that the criminal justice system was still failing disabled people.

Only two months ago, the continuing problems within the system were illustrated when DNS revealed how three thugs who carried out vicious attacks on young disabled men had avoided being sentenced for disability hate crime for the second time.

This week’s report from the three inspectorates shows that much of the criminal justice system – although there are patches of good practice – is still failing disabled people on hate crime.

It says there has been “a failure to universally embed good working practices relating to disability hate crime by the police, CPS and probation service providers”, while police, CPS and probation service leaders had failed to ensure the issue received “additional focus and attention”.

And it reveals that police are still only correctly identifying 20 per cent of disability hate crimes in the files they pass to the CPS, although this is an improvement on just seven per cent in 2013.

There is, the report says, a “continuing lack of understanding of disability hate crime issues by the police”.

It also says that, in all but five per cent of files where it appeared to be relevant, CPS had failed to seek the necessary further information on the disability hate crime aspects of the case from police.

And with the probation service, almost half of pre-sentence reports examined for the review were “the wrong type” and “insufficient”, even worse than its performance in 2013, where just under a quarter of reports were the wrong type for the case.

The inspectorates’ report also raises concerns about the number of cases in which the courts increased the sentence for the perpetrator of a disability hate crime under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, an issue repeatedly exposed by DNS. The report says the number of recorded uplifts was “unacceptably low”.

And it says it found “little or no evidence” that disability hate crime had been awarded a higher priority by the probation service since 2013.

In one case examined by the inspectorates, a man with learning difficulties told police he was regularly threatened at knifepoint and robbed of his benefits, but his case was “passed backwards and forwards between two police departments, with neither taking any action to safeguard the victim or apprehend the offender”.

And, in a chilling echo of some of the most notorious disability hate crimes of the last 10 years, police recorded a disability hate crime when a brick was thrown through a woman’s window while she was in a psychiatric hospital, and her neighbour told them the woman was being targeted by a group of youths because of her impairment.

But when another brick was thrown through the window two weeks later, the police failed to record it as a disability hate crime or link it to the previous incident.

The report says that this failure to link repeat offences was “a serious gap”, as it is often the “repetitive targeting of a disabled person that will highlight the ‘hostility’ element of a disability hate crime”.

Katharine Quarmby, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, and author of Getting Away with Murder and her subsequent pioneering book, Scapegoat, welcomed the report but said it highlighted the disappointing lack of progress.

She said: “There is so much that needs to be done and that has not been done.

“We are looking at report after report after report saying we need to improve reporting of disability hate crime, have better hate crime training, more joint working, and more support for disabled people in the criminal justice system.”

She also pointed to the failure to produce solid data that would show whether disability hate crime itself – or just people prepared to report hate crime – was increasing.

Quarmby has called repeatedly for proper analysis of the motives of perpetrators of disability hate crime, for better training for judges, and for ministers to distance themselves from the “benefit scrounger rhetoric” that is believed to have fuelled hate crime in recent years.

Lord [Chris] Holmes (pictured), the EHRC’s disability commissioner and a Tory peer, said: “The Equality and Human Rights Commission has long been calling for tough action to end the ugly spectre of disability hate crime.

“It blights lives and makes disabled people feel unsafe in their own homes and communities.  

“It is therefore very disappointing that the Inspectorates of Constabulary, Probation and Crown Prosecution Service should have found the criminal justice system continues to fail disabled people.

“Following our own landmark investigations into the problem, we are committed to continuing our efforts and call on other agencies to redouble their efforts to tackle the issue.”

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